UNC Storm Surge Expert Warns Of Potentially 'Catastrophic' Florence

Sep 11, 2018

Tuesday morning projections showed Hurricane Florence hitting the North Carolina coast and causing a severe storm surge in several areas.
Credit Coastal Emergency Risk Assessment / ADCIRC storm surge and wave guidance

As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the Carolina coast, experts are warning of its potentially disastrous effects.

Across the Carolinas, people are preparing for what experts believe could be a devastating storm. The biggest risks from Hurricane Florence may not come from wind, but from the associated rainfall.

Rick Leuttich directs the University of North Carolina's Institute of Marine Science  Morehead City, and is one of the principal developers of the ADCIRC coastal circulation and storm surge model.

As one of the nation's foremost experts on storm surge, he warned that if Florence hits at high tide, it could pose serious risks to property and life for any low-lying areas along the coast as well as along any inlets.

"The coast could see 10-to-12 feet of storm surge plus tides, and cause quite a mess across a stretch of the coast from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout and western Pamlico Sound," he said.

That amount of storm surge would put Florence on par with Hurricane Fran. That 1996 storm caused some of the worst damage in North Carolina history.

Leuttic warned that high winds are dangerous, but it's really the heavy rainfall that poses an even higher risk.

"If they're caught in a major flood, then it often times is much more catastrophic in terms of loss of life and damage to properties, buildings and other things," he said.